Countries should be on high alert for the new swine flu virus, tracking any suspect cases and ensuring medical workers do not spread it further, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday. Doctors and hospital staff must wear protective masks and gloves and wash their hands often to lower the risk of transmitting the new strain among themselves and patients, the United Nations agency said in fresh guidance on the outbreak.

“All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said. The WHO has raised its alert level to 5, on a scale of 6, indicating a pandemic was “imminent”. (www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/swineflu/swineinfinfcont/en/index.html)

“At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases and infection control in all health facilities,” Chan told a news conference late on Wednesday. Laboratories must gear up to analyse quickly whether patients have the new strain and follow good biosafety measures, said Chan, adding the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was working to make diagnostic kits available to other countries and laboratories.

The new virus has killed up to 176 people in Mexico and is spreading fast. A dozen countries have reported cases of the H1N1 strain and Texas officials have confirmed a 22-month-old Mexican boy had died in the state while on a family visit, the first confirmed swine flu death outside Mexico.


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